Scottish councils go back to the drawing board after 'devastating' decision on SNP school building funds
Council chiefs across much of Scotland are considering their options after the Scottish Government rejected funding bids for more than 20 school building projects.
Ministers left communities in a dozen local authority areas “devastated” this week as they revealed there would only be enough Government money to support plans to develop ten new schools across the nation.
Amid soaring costs, the Government had repeatedly delayed announcing the successful bids for the third phase of its learning estate investment programme (LEIP) for almost a year.
The third phase of the funding was expected to involve £295 million of Government money, to be matched by councils, but the amount committed this week is understood to have been between £225m and £250m.
There was less money available because the Government had recently agreed to provide extra finance for 20 projects, which had been awarded funding in the first and second phases of the £1 billion LEIP, due to rising costs.
Highland Council had applied for funding for four primary schools and a school for pupils with additional support needs, but it was told this week that all of the bids had been rejected.
The local authority’s convener, Bill Lobban, said: “To say this is disappointing news is somewhat of an understatement and it will be devastating for communities who desperately need a new school. We will need to carefully consider the outcome of the Scottish Government’s decision and will be urgently discussing the way forward from here."
Other councils which were left disappointed include Aberdeenshire, South Lanarkshire, Fife, Dundee City, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and East Renfrewshire.
Ministers opted to offer financial backing to support the replacement of three schools containing the potentially-dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) – Forres Academy in Moray, Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen, and Riverside Primary in West Lothian.
Three additional support needs (ASN) schools were also successful – Lochies ASN School in Clackmannanshire, Carrongrange ASN School Extension at Falkirk and Kirkwall ASN Centre in Orkney.
Other winning bids were for Mull Campus in Argyll and Bute, Lenzie Academy in East Dunbartonshire, Chryston High School extension in North Lanarkshire, and Brae Campus, Shetland.
A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “We are very disappointed that a new Thorn Primary School has not been confirmed as one of ten school projects to receive Round 3 LEIP funding. We will be immediately seeking feedback and will review our options, before confirming next steps.”
Liam Kerr, a north-east MSP and Conservative education spokesman, criticised the decision to “overlook” plans for new primary schools next to Fraserburgh Academy and Mackie Academy, Stonehaven.
He said: “This shameful decision is a hammer blow to Aberdeenshire Council and the people of Fraserburgh and Stonehaven who desperately need these new campuses to be built. I will now be writing to the Scottish Government to ask why these bids were overlooked and if we can expect them to be successful in future rounds of funding.”
A Dundee City Council spokesperson said: “We remain committed to building the Western Gateway Primary School as part of a future phase of the housing development and will continue to work with the Scottish Government to explore future funding opportunities.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This third phase supports a priority project in those local authorities who have not thus far benefitted from LEIP and, therefore, treats all councils fairly and equitably.
“From the outset of the LEIP, we have been clear that it will be focussed on improving the condition of schools across the country and those impacted by population growth. The proportion of schools in ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ condition in Scotland has increased from 61 per cent in April 2007 to 90.7 per cent in April 2023, and LEIP investment will build on this progress.”
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